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“All in it together”: University launches Civic Health Innovation Labs (CHIL)

Today (Friday 8 December) the University of Liverpool launched an innovation lab where health and technology experts can work together to drive advances in care and wellbeing. The secure data environment will allow researchers to address local and global health challenges by developing new artificial intelligence (AI) and other data-driven advances.

Civic Health Innovation Labs (CHIL) is a new University research centre that was opened by Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Chief Executive of the National Institute for Health & Care Research (NIHR).

Led by Professor Iain Buchan, CHIL will bring together scientists, engineers, Liverpool City Region residents and health professionals from different disciplines, organisations and lived experiences. Together they will drive an internationally important health technology research and innovation cluster in England’s North West.

The research targets global health problems that need data science and engineering to better understand, prevent and treat conditions for patients and populations. This builds on Liverpool’s existing research strengths in infection, medicines, and public health, plus emerging research (with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust) in mental health. They share common challenges of complexity and inequality, needing better data insights to understand whole systems of health and care.

Professor Buchan, W.H. Duncan Chair in Public Health Systems and Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for Innovation, University of Liverpool said:

“We have created an environment to fuse different kinds of expertise in creating and evaluating data-intensive solutions to some of society’s most challenging health problems.

“Building on our world-first Civic Data Cooperative, Liverpool City Region’s residents are deeply involved in how CHIL uses their data. Liverpool is proud to break new ground with civic approaches to data and AI innovation, demonstrating a spirit of togetherness that delivers positive change, as seen in our COVID-19 responses. In a world challenged by antimicrobial resistance, climate, conflicts, mental health problems, emerging infections, and the increasing frailty of ageing populations we need to pool our innovation resources – we’re all in it together.”

CHIL’s headquarters is a cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research and learning facility strategically located at Liverpool Science Park, in the Knowledge Quarter Liverpool Innovation District. It is intended to foster collaboration, partnership working, and team innovation. With breakout spaces, dedicated collaboration areas and a secure NHS data and analytics area, the facility has been designed to inspire the development of ground-breaking solutions. Importantly it offers a space for emerging and local academic talent to work as well as attracting international researchers.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Scientific Adviser DHSC, and CEO of NIHR said:

“It is a privilege to be able to open such an important research centre in the heart of Liverpool. Collaboration within the research sector is essential if we want to tackle some of the largest health and care problems facing the world today, and centres like this make that a reality. I particularly welcome the clear engagement and involvement of the community in this initiative. I am excited to follow what the organisation produces and see how it improves the lives of patients and the public.”

CHIL will build on the momentum of global innovation Liverpool delivered in the COVID-19 pandemic where insights and interventions used linked data and analytics to coordinate impactful civic actions – a key example being the University’s role in delivering the world’s first voluntary mass testing. CHIL will support the Pandemic Institute with data science and AI in preparedness for future pandemics.

Addressing the gap in community-based and system-wide mental health research, the University recently partnered with Mersey Care, the UK’s largest mental health and community services trust, to create NIHR’s new Mental Health Research for Innovation Centre (M-RIC). Mersey Care is a core founding partner in CHIL, where M-RIC is headquartered.

In medicines, CHIL will enable the University’s world-leading clinical pharmacology work to expand into AI to optimise medicines, tackling the problems patients with multiple conditions on multiple medicine face.

Crucially, CHIL will also embed public health researchers in the development of the AI applications being used by NHS, local government, and other civic partners for population health management. These include the Cheshire and Merseyside’s Data-into-Action programme and the Liverpool City Region Civic Data Cooperative (CDC), which will be now be headquartered at CHIL.